Dietary fats play a vital role to our overall health. It is crucial to give our body energy, help us absorb essential fat-soluble vitamins like Vitamin A, D, E, and K, and to support cell growth.
There are four major dietary fats in foods we eat:
- Saturated fats
- Monounsaturated fats
- Polyunsaturated fats
- Trans fats
The four types of fats are classified according to their chemical structures, such as degree of unsaturation, and physical properties. Saturated and trans fats tend to be more solid at room temperature whereas monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats tend to be more liquid.
In recent years, the long chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids have received a lot of attention due to their beneficial effects on health, particularly on reducing the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) and children’s cognitive development.
The three main types of omega-3 fatty acid are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Generally, EPA and DHA are contained in fish, such as salmon, tuna, and herring while ALA is found in plants such as flaxseeds, oats, and plant oils.
ALA is an essential fatty acid and serves as a precursor in the human body to the formation of DHA and EPA. However, the conversion from ALA to EPA and DHA is very little and inefficient.
Therefore, getting EPA and DHA from foods is a more practical way to fulfill daily omega-3 needs. The food industry has also introduced foods enriched with omega-3 fatty acids, such as formula milk and eggs rich with omega-3, as an affordable alternative to deep-sea fish.
According to the “Recommended Nutrient Intakes for Malaysia 2005” report by the Malaysia Ministry of Health (MOH), omega-3 fatty acids are recommended at 0.3 to 1.2% of total energy intake for the general population based on habitual Malaysian diets. Nonetheless, a person’s daily omega-3 needs can be vary depending on their age, sex, and health factors.
Consumers should always keep in mind that omega-3, especially omega-3 supplements, should be taken moderately as excessive intake of omega-3 can cause blood thinning or excessive bleeding in some people. The U.S. FDA has also suggested that people should take no more than 3000 mg per day of EPA and DHA combined.